By Ryan Cormier
EDMONTON - Canada's first housing for families visiting wounded soldiers during rehabilitation and medical treatment will be built in Edmonton.
The Valour Place project, a dozen apartment suites surrounded by park space, will serve as home to family members from across the country, at no cost, as well as soldiers whose homes may no longer be accessible to them, due to injury.
In addition to dedicated medical facilities at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, the Edmonton Garrison and the University of Alberta Hospital, Valour Place will add to Edmonton's reputation as a leader in the treatment of injured soldiers.
When Maj. Mark Campbell of St. Albert lost his legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2008, he was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, an international hospital that has treated many soldiers injured in Afghanistan or Iraq.
While there, his family flew to Germany and stayed at Fisher House, an international home that serves as the template for Valour Place. The proximity helped both Campbell and his family, who met others from across the world visiting with other soldiers. The families took turns cooking meals and leaned on each other for support.
"The beauty of it was that they ran into other families they could cocommiserate with," Campbell said. "My wife and children benefited hugely from Fisher House, and we wondered about a similar thing in Edmonton."
Back in Canada, Dennis Erker, campaign chairman and honorary colonel of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, was thinking the same thing as soldiers began to migrate to Edmonton's expertise in soldier treatment.
When Campbell began his stay at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital, his parents, from British Columbia, stayed in a hotel and took cabs around the city. "If they had a Valour Place, particularly close to transit, the LRT, they would have been much better off."
When Campbell began to spend his weekends outside the Glenrose, all he wanted was to go home after three months with doctors and therapists. However, his home wasn't fully wheelchair-accessible, and he was forced to stay in a hotel. Again, a place like Valour Place would have been preferable.
"This place is going to take care of a lot of people. We're on the cusp of something great here. From the perspective of an injured soldier, this is long overdue in Edmonton. It's how soldiers deserve to be treated."
Erker points out that the federal government already pays for family accommodations, but the project fulfils a need for healing soldiers to to recuperate in a residential environment.
"It's one thing to heal physically, but they have to heal emotionally and reintegrate into the community, as well."
A committee has been raising money for Valour Place for months, and are now taking the first steps in a public campaign. With a goal of $10 million for construction and staff members, roughly $6 million has already been committed.
The longest step has involved selecting a location, which the Valour Place committee believes it has near 111th Avenue and 111th Street, in the Queen Mary Park neighbourhood. The location, empty lots currently owned by the city, is close to the Glenrose, along bus routes and blocks away from future LRT expansion.
Sean Douglas, president of the local community league, said he and other league members support the project, as long as the community at large has no objections and the land around the site is designated for parks.
"So far, I haven't heard anyone say anything negative about the project," Douglas said.
In Afghanistan, 152 Canadian soldiers have been killed. For each death, roughly 11 other soldiers have been injured and hospitalized.
The timing of Valour Place is a bit late, Campbell points out, with Canadian forces set to largely withdraw from Afghanistan in 2011.
"While the pipeline of injured soldiers is likely to dry up next year, there will always be a need for this," he said.
Valour Place will also be open to military veterans, police and other first responders.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski